March 13, 2013 — Despite improvements in contraceptive prevalence from 1990 to 2010, an estimated 233 million women worldwide will have an unmet need for contraception by 2015, according to a United Nations study published on Monday in The Lancet, the Huffington Post reports (Pearson, Huffington Post, 3/12).
For the study, researchers from the U.N. Population Division and the National University of Singapore evaluated U.N. data on contraceptive use among married or cohabitating women ages 15 to 49 from 194 countries between 1990 and 2010. The research team used a model to project growth in countries with little available data.
The study found that between 1990 and 2010, the unmet need for family planning -- or the percentage of women who wished to delay pregnancy but were not using any method of contraception -- fell from 15.4% to 12.3%. However, after accounting for population growth and increased efforts to improve global awareness of family planning, the researchers estimated the demand for contraception will grow from 900 million women in 2010 to 962 million in 2015.
Worldwide, contraceptive prevalence among women of reproductive age increased from 54.8% in 1990 to 63.3% in 2010. The biggest increases occurred in southern Asia, along with eastern, northern and southern Africa. Contraceptive prevalence was lowest in central and western Africa, where fewer than one in five women used any method in 2010 (Garcia, Medscape, 3/11).
The study found wide geographical variations in the types of contraceptive methods used. Eight percent of married or cohabitating women in central Africa reported using a modern form of contraception -- such as hormonal birth control pills, intrauterine devices, condoms, vaginal barrier methods, emergency contraception or sterilization -- compared with 70% of their counterparts in parts of Asia, Europe and North America (Huffington Post, 3/12).
In an accompanying editorial, John Cleland -- a researcher in the department of population health at the University of London -- and Iqbal Shah -- of the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation -- wrote that the report "illustrate[s] the usefulness of rigorous modeling to provide convincing estimates of health indicators when empirical data are patchy or non-existent."
They also noted, "An important but neglected contributor to unmet need is the narrow range of methods used in many high-prevalence and low-prevalence countries." Increasing the range of available methods could help address the issue, they argued (Medscape, 3/11).